The last two days I've been working through a retelling of the waste industry through the prism of Dickens' Great Expectations. The first piece set out who (what) the novel characters represent in the industry. The second piece then told the tale of Great Expectations with these characters. With Pip as the waste industry, it is not a happy story.
The story need not play out this way.
The waste industry need not be seduced by the grandeur of international experience.
The industry does not need to pursue magnificent and complex waste processing facilities, the sort that can only be established through support from the government or major players. Support from either is a Faustian pact that frames the problem such that it can only be solved by big and complex plant.
Instead, the industry can develop bottom up, highly focused, highly entrepreneurial businesses that seek to disrupt the problem. These businesses could hone in on a specific part of the problem, restructure it so that it makes sense on their own terms, and then resolve it. Given the strength of the dominant paradigm, you can only do this by NOT thinking as a waste industry participant. An example is Eco-Stock in New Zealand, making stock food out of surplus food. Eco-Stock sees itself as a stock food company offering waste collection services.
In the context of Great Expectations, this retelling would see Pip deciding to form his own status rather than rely upon some external benefactor, some external standard to measure himself against. He wouldn’t even credit being a gentleman with any superior value to, say, being a wealthy industrialist.
The waste industry need not accept the Establishment as a credible source of meaning.
The story could also be shifted by refusing to accept that the Establishment is even a credible source of meaning within the status quo. Instead, the powerful outsider is equally credible, and likely more potent.
Rather than wait for the government to do something, or for the established players to build a plant that we want, we should recognise that it is lesser known players who are actually driving the industry forward and they need to be supported. Companies like AnaeCo Ltd in the municipal solid waste (ie trash) processing space, or Instant Waste Management in construction and demolition waste. These companies are creating a whole new sense of meaning for the waste industry, challenging the status quo not by undermining it but instead by replacing it.
In the context of Great Expectations, this retelling would see Magwitch being redeemed rather than destroyed. It would see Pip’s good fortune flowing from Magwitch being recognised and validated.
The waste industry need not abandon its roots
The final retelling of the story is to challenge why the waste industry even needs to depart the hearth of the local public. Why should the waste industry believe that it must abandon the wishes and desires of the local community to advance? Why do waste industry participants see the community as something to consult and convince rather than engage and respond to? Why are new plants imposed by the industry rather than grown from the people?
Sure, that might mean no plant that people are uncomfortable with, but it might mean a whole lot of more intelligent plants that people ARE comfortable with. It means distinguishing between a non-representative but noisy minority pushing a vested interest and another equally noisy but representative minority. It doesn’t mean that progress is slower, it does mean listening is a whole lot more valuable.
And so, in the context of Great Expectations, this retelling would see Pip remaining with Joe and completing his apprenticeship as a blacksmith. It would see Pip as a pillar of the local community, regarded and respected as a man of integrity and purpose, fulfilling his own great expectations in close connection with his local community.
What does it all mean?
Ultimately not a lot. This rereading of Great Expectations is ultimately just a vehicle for my own opinions. There is nothing in Great Expectations that forces the particular conclusions I have drawn. That is the beauty of a reinterpretation – it is an empty vessel.
What I hope to have achieved through this rereading is to have perhaps shed a new light on how the industry sees itself. Maybe had a bit of fun with an unlikely juxtaposition. Perhaps introduced a bit of weirdness to the proceedings. Who knows, maybe even started a conversation. The point is that I do not claim to have all the answers, or even all the questions. All I claim is to be a voice amongst voices, one perspective among many that is neither right nor wrong, but instead serves to give a better view of what it is that we are looking at.
This paper will be presented at the Waste & Recycle Conference from 11-14 September in Fremantle. It should be fun. I'll blog how it goes.